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  • Will Hendrickson

When to Say 'No' to a Client

For anyone trying to make money online, client work can be challenging. First, you have to search for and "land" the client. Just getting a meeting with a serious prospect takes a lot of work: networking, negotiating, and differentiating your service from the thousands of options your prospect is a challenge. So, when we finally do get a client who has the capital, willingness, and an interesting project it is very exciting!

That being said, not all clients are created equal. Some clients are a joy to work with and I can think of several off the top of my head whom I'd gladly work with again! Some, not so much.

Before you sign a deal with any new client, take a moment to reflect on your interactions thus far. Remember, every client project is a risk/reward scenario for your business. Yes, the client can bring in much-needed capital that's needed to fuel your business, but a bad client can actually cost you much more in terms of both money and opportunity. This article describes many of the most common "red flag" behaviors exhibited by clients from hell!

Never Work for Free


If a client asks for free work, such as an up-front trial or even partway through a project, it's important that you refuse. Asking for free work is a clear sign that the client doesn't value your time. Life is too short, and you have a business to run! Clients that ask for free work also often try to cut corners in other ways, and may inappropriately distribute your work after you're done or decide not to pay their last invoice after a long time working together.

Be polite, but firm. Make it clear that you value your time, and only want to work with others who value yours! If you do, the client will be much more likely to respect you. If they show any other signs of disrespect, however, it's time to fire your client!

Don't Start Without a Contract

This rule was a contender for the #1 spot today! Contracts are an important part of working with clients and it's absolutely crucial that you have one. While it may be very expensive to enforce a contract, there are some less expensive means which are granted by one than suing the client outright. For example, if a client doesn't pay and posts your work for sale somewhere, you might be able to get a platform holder to remove your content from their site. Many times, platform holders have experience working with such disputes, and they don't want to host any pirated content on their site due to the legal trouble it can get them in. As a result, many will comply with takedown requests if you can supply proof that you own the IP.

Even if this doesn't happen, having a contract means that the threat of suit exists if the client doesn't comply with the agreement. This threat is often enough to deter domestic clients although foreign clients are much harder to track down and therefore the cost of suit is much higher, and many know this. I would recommend working with domestic clients and as always, it's best to hire an attorney to create air-tight contracts that protect your rights as a freelancer.

Get Paid Often

The internet is a great and wild frontier, full to the brim with both danger and opportunity. And, I'm not just talking about toxicity on Twitter.

When you make money online, you want to make sure that you get paid, and frequently! Clients who don't want to pay will often set very long payment deadlines. They will insist on receiving the work before paying. Even if they have paid you before, this leaves an opportunity to skip out on the last, and often most costly invoice. Don't give them a big opportunity! Make sure you get paid every seven to fourteen days, if the client doesn't agree to this term, walk away before you get burned. This goes back to the point above about valuing your time, so make sure to communicate to the client that you value your time, and frequent payments are an important part of that value.

Don't Work With Bargain Shoppers

Many clients will want to know why you are charging a specific rate for your work. If they do then take a moment to explain why your work is valuable, and what you can offer that others can't. However, if the client tries to haggle you down or wants to get the lowest rate possible, then it's time to say "no".

Clients like this will often try to cut corners in other ways, and may try to get out of paying you for some work if, for example, a deadline is missed. You should always deliver the best service you can, but a client who expects you to work for free for any reason does not value your time and doesn't understand or care about your work. These clients cause increasing problems and stress over the course of a project so it's better to move along without them.

Your Work is not "Simple" or "Easy"

Clients who refer to your work or their project in this way are throwing one of my biggest red flags: they don't value the work required or your time. They are likely inexperienced as well. Remember, they are hiring you to do work that they could not or would not do themselves, so if it's so easy and simple, then they should have done it themselves.


Value your time, value your work, and up your game when searching for clients. If you avoid the red flags above, you will build a client base who can consistently fund your business and advance your career as a creator. If you have clients like the ones above, I would encourage you to start searching for new ones immediately, as there will always be a steady supply of new client work available from well-funded, experienced and professional people!

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